Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Beauty is only 30 microns thick...

Today, I shattered almost all the grains in one of my peridotite thin sections, by inadvertently polishing it slightly too hard. I'm deeply upset because this was a peridotite of which there was nothing left other than this very thin section. And the thin section was a thing to be marveled at - perfectly made, immaculately polished, frosted glass, not to mention the sample itself is exceptionally beautiful and peculiar for certain geochemical reasons. Anyway, it is not a huge deal, the sample can still be used, and we analyzed the hell out of it already. So, scientifically, I'm not that upset. If someone wanted to look at the sample and measure it for themselves, they could still do so and reproduce our results.

On the other hand, this incident struck me a bit deeply on a more personal level. In the blink of an eye, I ruined something so perfect and beautiful! That's what upset me - not the scientific part, that, thankfully, is still intact in terms of the sample (it just doesn't look as it once did). I felt like I had cracked a treasured family heirloom vase, or torn a tapestry that took months to weave... Sigh! I'm normally extremely careful with things, and do my best not to be careless. This just goes to show that accidents happen, and lessons can be learned.

On a more philosophical note, this incident made me think of sometimes how fragile, how delicate are the objects we fashion in an effort to better understand the greater world around us. Take thin sections for instance: in order to plumb the mysteries of the deep Earth, we glue 30-micron thick slivers of xenoliths onto glass slides, thin enough so that just the right amount of light can pass through them for us to identify the minerals. These xenoliths are merely the tiniest bits of the Earth's mantle, which is unfathomably bigger than we can imagine. (We've barely So yes, in the grand scheme of science, what's the shattering of one little sample?

So... all in all, it was a sad day, but, life, and research goes on, and I'm done worrying about this. Blogging about it helped. And yes, I know, this is nothing compared to some of the much worse things that can happen in the lab. This was more of a personal upset, that I had ruined something so beautiful, by accident.

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